The Framing of CSR Messages and how they are interlinked with Brand Heritage and Authenticity for selected UK Grocery Retailers.
A review of past literature has highlighted that the incorporation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) values in brand communications is difficult to get right. In particular, limited prior research has examined the evolving nature of CSR and how it is enacted within brand heritage and authenticity. In addressing this gap, this research examines the CSR reporting of two organisations and seeks to interpret how CSR initiatives are enacted within their individual brand heritage and authenticity. A programme of qualitative enquiry was adopted; initially 26 semi-structured interviews were designed to gain insight into the actual experience of a range of respondents of social responsibility ideas, messages and associations as they pertain to UK retailers. In phase two, a critical discourse analysis (CDA) proved an effective means to deconstruct the CSR reporting strategies that link to brand representations over an extensive time period for both UK brands. The findings from the study highlight how symbolic brand heritage references were significant in explaining brand-specific distinctions between CSR messages. High levels of brand-specific trust were linked to recollected memories for some consumers, but this contrasted with distrust by younger respondents. Notable findings from the CDA of Marks and Spencer reports were threefold, demonstrating: a) evidence of evolution in the nature and structure of CSR brand narratives; b) patterns showing strong interlinking of CSR reporting with components of brand heritage, (track record and core values); and c) attempts to create relational and experiential values that conjured forms of brand authenticity directed at stakeholders i.e. customers and employees. Conversely, for the Co-operative CDA offered a) less evidence of evolution in CSR brand narrative; b) limited patterns of interlinking of CSR reporting with elements of brand heritage in the early years, with stronger emergent patterns from the 2000s; and c) a formal reporting structure that offered a progressive evolution in CSR reporting but low evidence of brand authenticity. The study contributes to an increase in theoretical knowledge in the CSR and branding literature, and offers some original perspectives on the evolution of the producer narrative (central to CDA) of CSR messages over a lengthy time period (over 100 years). Methodologically, this study argues for the use of a CDA as an effective modus operandi to deconstruct the framing of CSR reporting strategies for organisations. From a marketer perspective, this study suggests that brand heritage and authenticity should be viewed more holistically– that it is perceived brand authenticity as it relates to CSR that may or may not be acknowledged by customers; and that the interpretation of brand authenticity may impact the degree of engagement with CSR messages.
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